Above: Jaguar Land Rover builds content around the theme of adventure, such as driving one of its vehicles across a stretch of Arabian desert
The explosion in brands creating content to inform or entertain has been one of the biggest marketing stories of the past year. Research from the Direct Marketing Association suggests 88 per cent of UK marketers are using content marketing, and 76 per cent are doing more of it than 12 months ago.
But LinkedIn EMEA head of marketing solutions Josh Graff has a stark warning for brands to bear in mind before they start down this path: “It may be tough for marketers to hear, but the likelihood of their target audience being initially interested in them as a brand is slim. Marketers that deliver overly self-serving or insubstantial content will be sorely disappointed in the results.”
Mark Boyd, co-founder of Gravity Road, which owns and runs content platforms including YouTube channel Fashtag, warns: ”Brands think they can do anything and people will come… People are making stuff that nobody wants.”
The word ‘content’ literally just means something that fills a space, and there is an undoubted danger that brands could be doing no more than that if they create content for the sake of it, without picking the topics they cover carefully. Despite this, only 42 per cent of marketers questioned by the DMA say their brand has a content strategy.
So if it’s better to produce content with a strategic purpose and a specialist subject area, how best to go about it?
For content to add value it has to be a subject that a brand can be connected to legitimately
Make sure content connects to the brand
Departing Jaguar Land Rover global marketing communications director Patrick Jubb says: “For content to truly add value to a brand it has to have real meaning to that brand – be a subject the brand can be connected to legitimately and with integrity. Creating consumer engagement without meaningful brand connection is a missed opportunity.”
In keeping with its brand, Jaguar Land Rover has sought to form such a connection in its content by building it around themes of adventure. In December 2013, for example, it organised a challenge to drive a Range Rover across the Empty Quarter, a stretch of inhospitable desert on the Arabian Peninsula – an activity it accompanied with content produced by digital agency Ogilvy One.
In the US, the brand has become the first client of Time Inc’s new Watercooler Live ‘native advertising’ product. In partnership with content marketing specialist NewsCred, this initiative syndicates content from the brand across the advertising inventory and dedicated areas of the media owner’s websites.
The premise of content marketing is catering to the audience’s desire for knowledge or appealing to their emotions or sense of fun. With Jaguar Land Rover it is easy to see the link between adventure and an all-terrain vehicle, but most brands have not yet earned the right to present themselves to consumers as sources of information or entertainment.
Be relevant, but not restricted
Without doubt it is difficult to keep content fresh and interesting without straying into subject matters where the brand could be seen as lacking relevance and credibility. But VisitBritain marketing director Joss Croft says marketers should not censor themselves too heavily in the topics they allow themselves to address.
“One of the important points is being able to suggest new content and products,” says Croft. ”If you’re only promoting what you’ve always promoted and what they’re already aware of the opportunities for growing the market, spreading the business and building lifetime value out of customers [are lacking]. You need to be providing them with content they find inspiring and relevant.”
An example of a brand pushing for inspiring content is Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series, which it started running in 2012, asking members of the public to create films based on a script by Geoffrey Fletcher. One of its films, ‘Room 8’ has been nominated for a Bafta. Winners will be announced on Sunday 16 February.
A brand obviously has to start somewhere, and often that is by identifying a gap that competitors and conventional publishers are not adequately filling.
Kate O’Brien, marketing director of business telecoms provider Daisy Group, says: “In the technology market we’ve got consumers who need to understand more. It’s not just a question of price and buying the product. They’ve got a lot of questions and there’s a fear of technology. That’s why we decided to embark on content.”
Even assuming that a brand is able to fulfil this need for advice there are two big provisos for the kind of content most consumers are likely to find acceptable from a commercial organisation. The first, as seen above, is that there must be a reason to believe the brand could be the source of expertise. The second is that selling its wares cannot be the main subject matter the content addresses.
Don’t make it a sales pitch
Indeed, O’Brien says that at Daisy Group’s annual business conference, Wired, its sales people aren’t allowed to attend. Instead, content is focused on futurology and bringing together bright minds in the field of business technology.
Keeping sales pitches out of content has not harmed Daisy Group’s commercial fortunes, O’Brien adds. She says Wired has “paid for itself six times over” through new business that has come about as a result.
Roundtable events with chief information officers (CIOs) on topics they have a genuine interest in have been similarly fruitful.
“From the last one we did, we got half a million pounds’ worth of business, even though we didn’t sell or talk about ourselves,” she claims.
It is not always easy for marketers to resist the pressure from sales people to make content more about the company’s products and services and to prominently feature a call to action. But those who can hold off the entreaties of commercial colleagues are likely to benefit. Content will only be considered credible by its audience if it has ostensibly been produced for their benefit, and not for the purpose of making them buy a product.
It is a concern that Krishnan Chatterjee, head of strategic marketing at IT outsourcing company HCL Technologies, has encountered in his efforts to establish a content platform aimed at a target market of CIOs. CIO Straight Talk encompasses a magazine, website, events, webinars and social media communities.
Chatterjee explains: “Instead of touting HCL’s thinking to customers and prospects, Straight Talk highlights the experience-based insights of those same customers and prospects.”
He adds that there was historically plenty of pressure to use this content to promote HCL’s services overtly, “especially in the beginning, when sales people pushed for Straight Talk articles by a customer CIO to prominently mention HCL’s work with that company”.
“But over time,” he continues, “Straight Talk’s growing reputation as an honest broker of CIO ideas reduced pressure for the publication to be sales-oriented marketing collateral. Although the publication includes articles providing HCL’s point of view on important IT issues, the editorial core remains practitioners’ viewpoints.”
Return on investment
To this, of course, sales people and commercial directors are likely to counter that investment in content is money wasted unless there is a connection between the marketing activity and the business objectives.
But most marketers today seem aware of the imperative to produce visible returns, as O’Brien is quick to point out.
“I come from a banking background, so if I spend a pound I want a pound back,” she says. ”The way I work with [Daisy Group chief executive] Matthew Riley, we’re not restricted on budgets. He’ll give me £3m if I give him £6m back.”
At VisitBritain, key measures are used to indicate whether interested consumers are converted to saying they will definitely visit the country, and whether those who come can be convinced to spend longer here than they planned. With both, of course, comes increased spending.
This is just one way of demonstrating the power of content marketing, but whichever you choose, drawing a line all the way from the brand through the content to the impact on the business is the most important task for any marketer.
Content with a cause
A powerful way to build engagement and credibility for content marketing is to base it on a social cause.
Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas took this approach when promoting its new business model, ‘Wind for Prosperity’, aimed at providing wind energy to poor communities. It is an effort to encourage institutional investment in refurbished turbines to serve people without access to efficient energy sources. Vestas’ data modelling showed that regions of energy poverty are often those where the wind blows most consistently.
Vestas vice-president of global marketing Mirella Vitale says: “We primarily work with content marketing. We’re not promoting our turbines – it’s not an advertising campaign, it’s a campaign to drive global awareness about what the benefits of wind energy are.”
This includes a film made by production company Sundog Pictures, which Vitale says has been “tweeted and retweeted by Richard Branson”, among other luminaries of politics and business. Sundog’s founder is Sam Branson, son of the Virgin Group chairman.
Of course, social causes themselves can also benefit from being associated with content that is a proven draw for their target audiences. For a campaign last year, charity Prostate Cancer UK (PCUK) partnered with the Football League and commissioned articles from fanzines and sports journalists.
PCUK director of communications Vivienne Francis says: “Prostate cancer affects one in every eight men in the UK, but awareness of the disease has been worryingly low. We figured that the best way to reach a broader audience was to link our message with a subject many men are already engaged with – football.”
For this year’s ‘Men United’ campaign, PCUK added a call to action to its content to get men to vote for the country’s best-ever football club captain. The activity, executed by PCUK’s digital agency, Zone, resulted in more than 185,000 site visits per month, with the #MenUnitedVote hashtag reaching 713,000 people on social media.
PCUK’s initial awareness target was reached within just two days, Francis says.
If a brand doesn’t position itself as a leading expert in a given field, what’s the point? I don’t care what Nike thinks about pension plan options, but if they’re giving me training techniques and health tips, I’m listening. Topics should be related to customers’ collective interests – usually the closest universe outside the product or brand itself.
The Content Marketing Association
The content has to be credible and then the consumer will trust the brand. If the consumer trusts the brand as an authority on a particular subject, that brand will be their destination of choice. The winner of this year’s International Content Marketing Awards Grand Prix was Audi. While Audi Update, the email programme, develops relationships with prospects, the magazine drives the Audi strategy that puts a premium on loyalty, retention, up-sell, two-car households and lifetime value.
Great brands choose conversation topics that align with three key pillars – their brand’s values, their sales targets and their customers’ interests. For a brand like British Airways for instance, that might mean going deep into a core topic like the experience of flying, but it can also mean exploring wider topics of relevance like global travel inspiration and navigating new destinations. Customers can spot content tokenism a mile off. The trick is to invest in a conversation topic over the long term to build authority and authenticity.
Executive content director
It’s essential that a brand understands where it touches people’s lives and where it has authority to speak. People come to brands for solutions and to make themselves feel good. There’s no difference between the motivations of brands or media owners – they both want to sell stuff, be it newspapers, advertising or washing powder. Brands have to think like – or have to be – media companies nowadays, and the same standards of great work apply.